Kansas Judge to Rule on State Voting Restriction

     TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas judge may rule as early as late Friday afternoon on whether to allow election officials to toss out potentially thousands of votes in state and local races from people who’ve registered without meeting a requirement to document their U.S. citizenship.
     Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks held a two-hour hearing on a request from the American Civil Liberties Union to block an administrative rule from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The hearing comes only four days before Tuesday’s primary election.
“I want everybody to know how strongly I feel about the right to vote,” Hendricks said at the end of the hearing. “Without that everything else falls.” Hendricks said that he would issue a ruling. on Friday.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of three prospective voters earlier this month, a week after a state board allowed Kobach to impose the rule temporarily — through the November election — without a public hearing. It applies to people who register to vote at state motor vehicle offices without providing proof of their U.S. citizenship as required by a 2013 state law.
     The affected voters are to receive provisional ballots to be reviewed later, and county election officials are directed to count only their votes for federal offices, not state and local ones. Ahead of the primary, about 17,600 people registered at motor vehicle offices without providing citizenship papers, and the rule could apply to 50,000 people in November.
     Kobach suggested blocking the rule could make administering the upcoming primary election difficult.
     “We’re supposed to preserve as much of the law as possible (proof of citizenship),” Kobach told the hearing.
     The measure is a response to a federal judge’s ruling in May in another lawsuit that people who register at motor vehicle offices are entitled to vote in federal races even if they’ve not met the proof-of-citizenship requirement. The ACLU contends that Kansas law doesn’t give Kobach the power to create a two-tiered voting system and doing so violates the affected voters’ constitutional rights by treating them unequally. Its solution is to allow their votes in all races to be counted.
     Kobach, a conservative Republican, has championed the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirement as a measure to fight election fraud. He argues that in complying with the federal judge’s order, he’s still required to enforce the proof-of-citizenship law as much as possible.
     Critics of proof-of-citizenship requirements say they suppress voter turnout — particularly among young and minority voters — far more than they combat fraud. Alabama, Arizona and Georgia have similar requirements, but Kansas has gone the furthest to enforce its law.
     The Kansas proof-of-citizenship law and its enforcement have been the subject of multiple federal and state-court lawsuits. A federal judge who previously ruled against Kobach dismissed most of a second federal lawsuit against him on technical grounds Friday but said a challenge to the constitutionality of the entire proof-of-citizenship law could go forward.
     A federal law requires states to allow people to register at motor vehicle offices when they’re obtaining or renewing driver’s licenses. States can impose “necessary” registration restrictions, but the federal judge ruled in May that people document their citizenship by signing a statement on the registration form, facing criminal penalties if it’s not true.
     Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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